Monday, May 19, 2014

Greece Part IV: Rainy Hikes and Ruins

Monday 14 April
We got up early before our ferry to Athens so that we could do the ‘Caldera Hike’. The hike is just under 7 miles and since our ferry doesn’t leave until late afternoon…we have more than enough time.

From our porch, the cloudy day seemed to be clearing. We grabbed our stuff and set out for the hike.

Once we walked up the lane and climbed up towards the caldera we could see the view of the island opposite of what we could see from our porch. The sky was gray and heavy with rain. We debated going back for rain coats, but decided to just keep on.


It took us a little while to actually find the trail, since it randomly crosses some parking lots and goes behind stores. We walked for a while unsure if we were on the right path, but soon the trail became obvious along the edge of the cliff.

The path climbed up for a while amongst loose volcanic rock. At the top was a small church. The air was cool and it sprinkled rain as we went. It was damp, but humid so we were chilly AND sweaty.

The trail snaked along the rim of the caldera with amazing views. We saw two other couples but no one else.

We followed the path down and came out along the road. It was confusing as to where we should go to continue on the trail. What looked like the trail loomed above our heads, but we couldn’t reach it, nor could we figure out how we had gone off of it. We made a mental note to be more grateful for all the great trail markers that exist in the US and continued on the road for a while.

Finally, we came upon two stairs leading up a steep, overgrown embankment. It was clearly NOT the correct way to reach the trail, as we really had to climb and it wasn’t worn at all. But, it obviously led to the path, so we went for it.

From there, we continued on…sometimes along the caldera, sometimes away from it. We came upon towns and the trail would all but disappear. When possible, we continued along the wall overlooking the caldera, but more often than not we were in a maze of streets. We did our best to just head in the same general direction.

It was still spitting rain when we finally reached Fira. The hike had only taken us about 2.5 hours. Fira is a cute town. We followed some donkeys (who were working to carry cement…they knew the path from one point to the other with no one to lead them) down a path and found a coffee shop. We had a cappuccino to warm up from the wet and cold.

We walked more through the town-located the bus stop that we needed-and went into a little inn for another lunch of yummy souvlaki.

Unfortunately, lunch was rather rushed so that we could catch our bus.
As with all things in Greece, the bus station was in total chaos. We had no idea what was going on. There was neither obvious bus designation nor listing of prices. Huge groups of people were milling around as confused as we were. There were no signs anywhere or instructions from ANYONE.

We followed a loud American woman, who seemed to speak Greek and was also headed to Oia. Miraculously, we made it onto the right bus in a great swarm.

Once back at the hotel, we sat on the porch and tried to get warm in what little sun was peeking through the clouds.

Anna kindly drove us back to the ferry dock.

Again, there were big groups, no signs, no directions to board the ferry. We joined hundreds of others in a hot, stuffy hall.

When the ferry arrived, there was a mad scramble to get aboard and get the best seats. We were dragging our heavy bags again up narrow staircases.

We found a couch with a table and settled in for our 8 hour journey to Athens. We had fast food at the restaurant on board. This ferry was much more modern than the dreadful night ferry, but I still couldn’t say that ferries are my favorite mode of transportation.

I’d read that taxicabs in Athens are infamous for ripping off tourists, but we found a nice, honest guy that drove us to our hotel for a fair price.  

Athens at night was a bit sketchy. There is graffiti everywhere, but our hotel is nice and it’s comfy and we are glad to be here.

Tuesday 15 April
We had breakfast at the hotel today and headed out towards the Acropolis. Athens seemed dodgy last night, but was more welcoming this morning in the warm sunshine.
Graffiti and all

Preston and I ended up getting in a dreadful fight on our walk. Hey-these things happen when you travel with your husband 24/7. It was the first time though that we decided to just go our separate ways and explore on our own.

So, I took off on my own up to the Theater of Dionysus, past another beautiful ruin and reached the marble steps of the entrance to the Acropolis.

It was quite crowded, but that didn’t at all deter from the majesty of the place. Huge stone buildings with columns remained on either side of the staircase. I walked through. The ground was rocky and uneven.

I came out on the crest of the Acropolis. It was a magical place. You could feel in the air that it was special. I stood in awe of the Parthenon and the Erechtheion, with its women (caryatids) for pillars. The views of Athens were breathtaking. It is a huge city. I could see the pillars of other ruins in the distance. It was spiritual and special and I was super sad that Preston wasn’t with me.

Lonely Day

I sat for a while on the steps and took it all in. I’ve always felt a connection to Greek history and Greek mythology and all of it. It was like visiting Mecca. I couldn’t drag myself away.

Finally I peeled myself away from Athena, Poseidon, and all the rest and made my way down the hill and out the gate.

My ticket for the day-The Acropolis Pass-included entrance to a number of sites around Athens and the Acropolis. I debated heading towards the agora, the ancient open air market, but it looked like a long walk and I was anxious to find Preston again.

I strolled along the Promenade to the Acropolis Museum.

 The museum sits at the base of the Acropolis and has a glass front, so that the Parthenon is mirrored in its façade. It was some pretty awesome architecture.

Much of the ruins on the Acropolis have been replaced with plaster copies, so that the originals can be protected and restored in this museum.

Five of the six real caryatids are there (such named as the maidens of Karyai-an ancient town where these pillars were famously used on a temple dedicated to Artemis).

* No pictures allowed :-/

An entire hall was filled with dozens of smaller statues of women. These statues were found in a pit where they’d been buried for protection after the invasion of the Persians. This burial did, in fact, protect and preserve these statues which now still show the painted colors that decorated most of the marble statues of Ancient Greece.

The statues are almost cartoonish with their paint. Since many of the ruins found have been stripped of this decoration, in modern times we think of Greek statues to be made of marble…simple and regal in design. In fact, most were painted in bright colors to decorate the hair, eyes, and clothing of these statues.

Much of the real top of the Parthenon was also housed in this museum, but huge portions of this and the remaining sixth caryatid were taken by the Scottish Lord Elgin in the early nineteenth century.

This brings up an interesting debate. Lord Elgin was a Scottish diplomat and ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799-1803. During this time, he traveled to Athens, which was under Turkish rule. In Athens, Lord Elgin’s fascination with the ancient arts led him to the Acropolis and all its glory. Lord Elgin and his team worked to document the ruins and became dismayed at the state of the things. The ruins were not being well protected; the statues suffered terrible injury at the hands of the Turks.

Lord Elgin convinced the Governor of Athens to broadly interpret the mandate given to Elgin in regard to what he could do with the ruins. Lord Elgin also bribed local Ottoman officials. When all was said and done, about half of the Parthenon frieze, 15 metopes, 17 pedimental fragments, one caryatid, and a column from the Erechtheion were packed onto Lord Elgin’s ship and sent to Scotland. For years, these antiquities served as decoration in Lord Elgrin’s home before he sold them to the British Museum to pay off his debts.

So, in modern times…the Parthenon sits divided: half in England, half in Athens. I visited the British Museum in 2004 and in 2009. Their Parthenon room is impressive. The British Museum maintains that the Parthenon remains best protected and preserved in their care. Greece laments that the Parthenon should be returned to its rightful home in Athens. The Greeks feel that Lord Elgrin tricked and looted them of precious artifacts that are an important part of Greece’s history, religion, and legacy.

What do you think? Should Britain retain the pieces they’ve so protected for over a century or should they be returned to Greece now that Greece has the means to preserve these antiquities?

Anyway, the Acropolis Museum was incredible and well worth a visit.

From there, I walked across the street to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The temple was a large field with some remaining pillars left standing. I snapped some pictures and headed back to Preston.

I found him in the room and then set off for Syntagma Square to mail some of our postcards. I walked the busy streets and looked into the modern stores. It reminded me a bit of Istanbul.

Pres and I got gyros for dinner in a place near our hotel and returned to pack and read.

We are full in Europe now!! I’ve been so looking forward to this portion of our trip since we left LA in January. I can’t believe we are already here!! Time is passing so fast. Tomorrow we fly to ROME!! ROME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Final Thoughts/Facts on Greece:
Disorganized public transportation!!

Many cats (though, not as well looked after as Turkey)

Affordable for Europe

Amazing Food

Sweet White Wine

Wonderful hospitality

Storybook Scenery

Greece is part of the Schengen Agreement between European countries, so no visa is necessary

No comments:

Post a Comment